TCU defense under fire

TCU coach Gary Patterson is sticking behind his embattled defense, no matter what.

Perhaps in an attempt to shift the focus away from another sub-par performance, Patterson ripped SMU for the way it behaved after its win last week, along with C-USA officiating during his weekly news conference and his appearance on the Mountain West coaches' call.

When asked specifically about the youth on his defense during the call Tuesday, Patterson said, "To be honest with you, the group I was most unhappy with was the officials. ... They changed the complexion of the whole football game with about five or six calls. I understand why I left Conference USA. SMU did a great job, they won. But I can tell you this, they had a lot of help."

Patterson cited an interception from Jason Verrett on the first drive that was called off because of a pass interference penalty. SMU ended up scoring on the drive. He also has various other examples of calls that went against his team in a 40-33 overtime loss.

But the fact remains that TCU is having major problems on defense, specifically against the pass. TCU has given up 40-plus points twice already this season -- unheard of for a Patterson-coached team. In both losses, the Horned Frogs have fallen into deep holes, only to rally and then have their defense let them down in the end.

A defense that finished No. 1 in the nation for three straight years now ranks No. 90. One big reason for the struggles are new players in the secondary. But another has been the loss of Tanner Brock, a veteran linebacker out for the season with a foot injury.

"It was a big loss for us," Patterson said. "The strength of the defense coming back was four out of our six front guys, Tank [Carder] is starting to play better, but losing [Brock] you lost a lot of experience."

The Horned Frogs play at San Diego State on Saturday. Though they have never lost to the Aztecs, San Diego State put quite a scare into them last season, fighting back from a 40-21 fourth-quarter deficit only to come up short 40-35. They held an early 14-0 lead in that game before allowing TCU to score 34 unanswered points.

The big difference this year is the Aztecs do not have a proven set of receivers. Of the eight players who have caught passes this season, three are receivers. They have relied on Ronnie Hillman to catch passes out of the backfield, and their tight ends as well. Colin Lockett and Dylan Denso have emerged as the top two wideouts, but there is not much consistency in that group and no real deep threat.

Hillman, one of the top rushers in the nation, had only 54 yards last season against TCU. Given the way some teams have been able to pass on TCU, this could be an opportunity for the Aztecs to open up the deep passing game.

But Patterson insists his group is getting better.

"It's not going the way we want to. The most amazing thing is we've been able to fight back, with a little bit of luck we could be 5-0 but we're not. You have to understand you have to be ready to play. We've got to get ready."